Home Expats A Guide To Moving And Living Abroad in Mexico as an Expat

A Guide To Moving And Living Abroad in Mexico as an Expat

Mexico is a popular expat destination with people from all over the globe, although it remains a particular favourite with Americans due to its close proximity. Expats living in Mexico enjoy a laid-back lifestyle, low cost of living, warm weather, and a stunning range of scenery to suit every taste, from bustling cities to easy-going beach towns.

Updated: 03/06/2021
Read time: 14 minutes
Compare Rates
 
   
Spain
EUR
GBP
£

Moving to Mexico Expat Guide

There are an estimated 1.5 million Americans living across the region, and any new arrival to Mexico has the choice between settling into one of the many thriving expat communities across the country or opting for a more authentic experience amongst the locals. With warm weather and a low cost of living attracting retirees, and lively nightlife and beautiful scenery attracting digital nomads working remotely, Mexico really has something to offer everyone.

If you’re considering making the move across the border to Mexico, there are a number of factors to consider. From the visa you’ll need to the best places to set up your home base, this guide covers everything you need to know about living abroad in Mexico as an expat. Check out our guide to Top 25 Blogs from US Expats to get more details about working and living abroad.

Types of Visas When Moving to Mexico

The type of visa you will need to move to Mexico really depends on how long you are planning on staying, and whether you are working in the country or not. A standard tourist ‘visa’ permits you to stay in the country for up to 180 days (~6 months) upon arrival, which for some, is plenty of time to explore the country and make a decision on whether it’s the right home for you.

Many people bitten by the travel bug will then travel abroad before returning to Mexico on a new tourist visa. If you foresee yourself staying long beyond six months, however, you might want to look into a more permanent visa. In this section we’ve covered some of the main visas you might want to consider:

Tourist visa

A tourist visa is not a requirement for many foreign travellers to Mexico, including for citizens of the United States, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the European Union. In order to be permitted to enter Mexico as a tourist for up to 180 days, you will need to have a passport valid for six months, proof of onward travel, proof of sufficient funds for your intended length of stay, and the FMM (Forma Migratoria Múltiple) form that you are given on the plane by your airline.

The FMM will need to be completed before you get to immigration in Mexico and requires you to provide details such as your contact information, travel documents, address in Mexico etc. At immigration, the immigration officer will rip the form in half, giving you one half that you will need to keep hold of until you leave Mexico. If you lose your FMM form, you may need to pay an additional fee when leaving the country.

Resident visa

A resident visa is for one year, although it can be renewed for four more additional years. This visa is for anyone looking to stay in Mexico for more than 180 days. Some expats choose to leave the country after six months and then re-enter to stay on a tourist visa, but for others, applying for a resident visa is more appropriate.

There are several categories for a resident visa which will be applicable to different types of expats – such as retirees and different professions. To apply for a resident visa, you’ll need to visit a Mexican consulate in your home country. You’ll need your passport, application form, passport photos, the fee (~$40), and financial records proving you can support yourself while in Mexico. These records need to reflect a monthly income or savings of around $1,500 USD.

Permission to work

If you work online for a non-Mexican company and are not paid in Mexican currency (Mexican pesos), you don’t need a work visa. For example, if you are a freelancer/digital nomad working remotely with companies internationally, you could stay in Mexico with a tourist visa or a resident visa. 

If you are working for a Mexican company, however, you’ll need to first receive a job offer before applying for a resident visa with permission to work. You should apply for this visa outside of Mexico at a Mexican consulate in your home country.

Mexico Way of Life for Expats 

Pros
Low cost of living
Warm climate
Large expat community
Friendly locals
Laid-back way of life
Cons
Healthcare system can have long wait times
Expensive fees for quality international schooling
Banks can have long queues and wait times
Limited job opportunities for foreigners

Lifestyle

Mexico is a popular destination amongst expats all over the world because there really is something for everyone within its borders. From beaches and mountains to jungles and deserts, and bustling cities with huge expat communities to sleepy towns where you’ll need to throw yourself into life amongst the locals.

The country is popular with American expats in particular due to it’s proximity to the US border and warm climate, although it promises an enjoyable low-cost living, friendly locals, and easy-going way of life to anyone who chooses to settle in this diverse landscape.

Weather

Mexico’s dry season is classed as November to May, while the rainy season is June to October. 

The weather in Mexico’s coastal areas is typically tropical, hot, and humid with little variation between seasons, making Mexico a popular choice for those seeking year-round sunshine. Most areas of Mexico typically range between 50°F and 90°F throughout the year, although you should expect cooler temperatures, more rainfall, and less humidity in the mountainous regions. 

Travel

This section looks at both public transport and private transport when living in Mexico. Generally, the development of Mexico’s road network in the past few years means getting around the country is an easy and enjoyable experience – but stay safe and avoid travelling along dark and deserted highways at night.

Public Transport

In the past few years, Mexico’s public transportation network has undergone extensive development, meaning getting around the country is now easy and inexpensive. The main way of getting around is to use Mexico’s professionally run national bus network, with three classes of service offered on the most popular routes.

‘Executive’ and First Class buses offer a high-degree of comfort, with direct routes to most main destinations across Mexico. For an even more inexpensive way to get around, you could opt to use local buses. It’s worth noting that these can often be crammed way beyond capacity (don’t count on getting a seat!), and are not regulated from a safety point of view. If you’re up for an adventure and keen on getting around on a budget, however, local bus travel can be an interesting experience.

Private Transport

If you are planning on driving in Mexico, the first thing you need to know is that a driver’s license from most foreign countries is accepted, although you will need to make sure you have insurance that covers you to drive in Mexico.

Foreign residents and those living in Mexico on working permits are permitted to bring one car into Mexico for the duration of their visa, although many expats may choose to rent a car as and when you need it. 

Mexico’s road network has undergone extensive development in recent years, and driving in Mexico can now be an enjoyable experience provided you follow a few basic common-sense rules while behind the wheel:

  • Avoid driving at night, as the roads are rarely well-lit and there are some parts of the country you will not want to be out at night in.
  • If you are travelling a long-distance you are not certain about, it’s wise to seek advice about the route you are travelling beforehand from others who have done the journey before. Use forums online to get first-hand accounts from other expats.
  • Take the toll-roads where you can (bring cash) as these are the most recently developed and therefore a more pleasurable driving experience
  • Drive defensively – note that drivers may not follow the same lane system and adhere to typical driving practices in your home country, so stay alert to those around you.

Crime

Some less reliable media sites enjoy portraying Mexico as a country entirely run by the Cartel and completely unsafe for foreigners to live in. Millions of expats, however, will confirm that this is not true, and Mexico is a safe and easy-going place to live.

Like all countries, choosing a place to live requires some planning and research ahead of time to ensure you are choosing the right place for you. Of course, there are some areas of Mexico with high crime rates and that may not be safe for expats to live in – but there are just as many safe, welcoming locations that many people will settle in without any issues. 

A few tips for keeping safe as an expat in Mexico include:

  • Avoid areas that are known to be bad neighbourhoods
  • Avoid driving on dark highways at night
  • Do your research ahead of time and choose a safe neighbourhood to live in
  • Don’t walk around alone at night – especially if you aren’t used to navigating the area
  • Use common sense when out and about, such as paying attention to your surroundings, keeping your bag closed and across your body, not getting your valuables out in busy areas where pickpockets could be roaming
Staying safe in Mexico

Living in Mexico comes with the same risks as living anywhere else in the world – to stay safe, use your common sense. Do your research on the area you are staying, choose safe neighbourhoods to stay in (asking other expats for their advice can be really helpful here!), and avoid being out in unfamiliar settings at night.

Jobs & careers in Mexico

Mexico is most popular with two types of expat:

  • Retirees
  • Digital nomads

This is because finding work in Mexico can be difficult, although some skilled trades such as engineering, communications, and more technical sectors can offer lucrative opportunities. While other expats may find work within the hospitality/tourist industry at resorts, bars, and restaurants, finding working online with international businesses is a route many digital nomads choose to pursue instead.

Cost of Living in Mexico

Expats moving to Mexico from developed countries can enjoy a high standard of living here, with the cost of living much lower than the vast majority of the United States and Europe. 

General cost of living

When it comes to general costs such as grocery items, petrol etc, expats will typically find Mexico has a much lower cost of living than most western countries. For example, a three-course meal for two will cost around $25, while a gallon of gasoline costs around $3.71.

Depending on where you choose to live, rental prices can be extremely high or an absolute bargain, so you may want to factor this into your decision-making. Keep in mind that busy cities such as Mexico City and areas that are popular destinations such as Playa Del Carmen will have higher rent due to the increased competition. On average, a 1-bedroom apartment in a city will set you back around $350 a month.

Healthcare costs 

Mexico’s healthcare system can be split into public and private sectors. The public healthcare system is free for anyone who resides in Mexico, and includes institutes specialising in specific illnesses as well as regional hospitals.

Private hospitals tend to offer shorter waiting times and better care than public hospitals, although you should expect to pay for these benefits. Compared to many other western countries, however, you’ll still find that healthcare is less expensive while being delivered at a high standard.

Private insurance

Private healthcare insurance can be useful due to the long wait times at most public hospitals in Mexico for non-emergency procedures. If you are living in Mexico as an expat, it’s sensible to have a travel insurance policy that covers you for medical expenses. Make sure your policy is suitable to expats rather than tourists only.

If you are working for a private Mexican company, you’ll be serviced by IMSS (Instituto Mexican del Seguro Social), and if you work in the public sector, your private healthcare will be serviced by ISSTE (Instituto Superior de Salud para Trabajadores del Estado).

Schooling

For expats moving to Mexico with your family, an international school is most likely going to be the best option for you. There are international schools in most large cities in Mexico, including Mexico City, offering world-class education mostly taught in English. This is a good option if you would like your child to have the ability to apply to study at University anywhere in the world when they are older.

Note, international schooling costs in Mexico can range from $25,000MXN –  $70,000 MXN per month, so this is a high cost to take into consideration if you are planning on settling in Mexico long-term.

Other options include:

  • Public school: Public school in Mexico is by law free. Lessons will be taught in Spanish.
  • Private school: Private schools will also teach in Spanish, but may provide a higher-level of education than public schools. You should note that foreign language classes may not be a high priority at public and private schools, and English may not be a core focus on the curriculum. Make sure that the school you choose is accredited by the Ministry of Public Education so your child can go on to study anywhere around the world.

Banking in Mexico

Initially here we need to list popular banks used in the country and if we have them link through to the bank pages themselves on site. At the time of writing this brief we have only UK and some US banks (Feb 2021) – so may need to go back and update each article as bank pages are created. 

Following this, the section should have a notification (good or bad) that highlights the general quality of banking in the country. 

After this, the section will give any general information on bank and include: 

  • Money transfer fees back home 
  • Cost of banking and using existing accounts in a country (where applicable) 
  • Options for saving money – using moneytransfers.com

Unless you are legally employed in Mexico, you are not legally required to open a bank account. In this section, we’ll first cover banking for expats working in Mexico, and then cover the best way of accessing your money if you are a retiree or digital nomad living in Mexico.

Expats working in Mexico

Some of the main banks in Mexico include:

  • Santander
  • Banorte
  • HSBC
  • Bancomer
  • Banamex
  • Scotiabank

To open your bank account, you’ll need to provide a valid identity document such as your passport, and proof of residency such as a utility bill from where you live (does not need to be in your name). The majority of the banks listed above are international banks, which means setting up an account should be a fairly easy process – consider choosing a bank with a branch close to your home or your place of employment so you can access your funds easily.

Expats not working in Mexico

If you have moved to Mexico as a retiree or are working online and therefore not paid in pesos, opening a bank account in Mexico might not be the most straightforward option for you.

To transfer money that you can access in Mexico, one option is to consider a money transfer provider. Many money transfer companies offer the option to transfer money via mobile money or cash pickup, which can be a convenient and low-cost way of paying for your daily expenses without expensive foreign exchange costs.

Take a look at our guide to sending money to Mexico to find the best money transfer options available to you.

Popular Places to Live in Mexico

You’ll find expats in every corner of Mexico, but there are certainly a few hotspots that remain crowd favourites and for good reason. From vibrant cities to more laid-back beach towns, below we’ve listed five of the most popular places for expats to live in Mexico:

Playa Del Carmen

Playa del Carmen is a tourist hotspot and when spring break rolls around, you’d be mistaken for thinking you’d taken a wrong direction and ended up on a beach in California with how many young American college students are roaming around.

That said, Playa del Carmen is a popular expat destination for good reason. Home to beautiful beaches, a lively nightlife, and plenty of coworking spaces, this vibrant beach town is a great place to consider if you’re single and looking to meet like-minded expats to explore the local area with.

Oaxaca City

Many expats plan to travel through Oaxaca and end up settling there much longer because this colourful city – all of which is a UNESCO World Heritage site – has everything you could need. 

Oaxaca City is located in the foothills of the Sierra Madre, and it a great choice for expats looking for vibrant city life that’s not quite on the same scale as Mexico City. Filled with museums, a thriving music culture, and some amazing street vendors to sample, Oaxaca offers an excellent home base for expats of all types.

Puerto Vallarta

Puerto Vallarta has been an incredibly popular destination with expats for many years, and despite that, it’s still one of the best options for safety, quality nightlife, great internet, warm sunny weather, incredible food, and, of course, pristine beaches.

There are some fantastic accommodation options up for grabs in this vibrant resort town – especially during low season – and scenery that you’ll seriously struggle to tire of.

Mexico City

As the largest city in the country, it’s no surprise that Mexico City remains a popular destination for expats looking to settle down. The city is a vibrant melting pot of culture, art, cuisine, and finance, with an abundance of neighbourhoods to explore and architecture to enjoy.

Mexico City is an all-round great choice if you love living in a city. You’ll find the best Mexican dishes as well as world-class cuisine amongst the bustling streets, an incredible nightlife, unparalleled shopping, and a large expat community to help you really feel at home here.

Mérida

Mérida is a hotspot for digital nomads right now, and this laid-back city provides a great base for expats looking for a safe place to settle down and enjoy a good work-life balance amongst like-minded people.

Mérida has a low cost of living, easy-going atmosphere, and is in close proximity to a number of fantastic excursions to sample during your time in Mexico.

Related content

Top 35 Blogs for Remittance Advice
In this list we have picked out the very best online resources for free remittance advice; regardless of the purpose, size or destination of your transfer.
Top 10 International Car Shipping Companies
Moving abroad can be costly and complicated, and if you are taking your car with you, the costs and complications can feel like they’re multiplying. In the interest of simplifying the process of relocating overseas, car in tow, we have put together this list of the Top 10 International Car Shipping Companies.
Top 10 International Removals Companies
Organising a move can be stressful enough, so uprooting to an entirely new country altogether comes with its own unique obstacles. Whether you are moving your family, your business or on your own, there are a lot of things to consider. To make matters easier we have put together a comprehensive list of the Top 10 International Removals Companies, in the hope we can alleviate some of the stress.

Yasmin Purnell

Yasmin is the content writer for MoneyTransfers.com. With an English degree from the University of Nottingham and over 5 years’ experience freelancing in the personal finance niche, Yasmin joined the team with a mission to make international money transfers accessible and easy to understand for all. When she’s not writing, you’ll find Yasmin on her yoga mat or planning her next escape to the mountains.

Companies
All Services